Jeff Gundy

Someone turned the house into two dining rooms with the kitchen between, this smallish one crammed with the end of the morning rush, construction guys fueling their achy get-it-done bodies, older men in no special hurry, waitresses bustling among us all. The only space is at the counter right next to the register, last place I'd choose--I always want my back to a wall. But the grandmotherly waitress talks to me, brings more bad coffee than I want, and I tune in to the hum and buzz and feel all right. The eggs are big and cooked just so and I eat the first piece of toast with them and the second with the blackberry jam. The guys stroll up to pay their $3.94 or 68 cents for just coffee and maybe they notice me and maybe not but it's safe as churches, I know I can say no thanks next time the coffee comes around, I can pay and get out the door before my stomach muscles clench entirely with caffeine and the familiar strangeness of life a hundred miles from home at the County Seat Cafe. When the rush slacks off the waitresses wash and dry, talk about another woman, the mall, some story. "She thinks I'm telling stories? She knows more about me than I know about her!"

"That's right!" "I don't know anything about her!" That's right. I love the hidden hollows inside rooms, inside language.  I love to sit like a rock in the stream and wonder at the burbling around me. I love the exclamation mark, the dash, the waitresses bumping hips as they crowd past each other with plates of eggs and sausage. I love that half-laugh, the worlds inside it, the coins swept off the counter and the near-clean rag behind, yellow gloves and bruises at the hip and thigh, one more morning of men who need food and coffee and talk and are willing and able to pay.

JEFF GUNDY has published his work in Creative Nonfiction, Georgia Review, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. His books include Inquiries and Flatlands (poems) and A Community of Memory: My Days with George and Clara (creative nonfiction).